DES MOINES, Iowa — The Urbandale Community School District informed parents that their student would need their permission to use a name other than what is on their birth certificate; and Urbandale isn’t the only school district.
The Johnston Community School District said the district is also requiring parental consent for nicknames, adding that there hasn’t been a whole lot of use of it.
The Des Moines Public School District told WHO 13 News that administration is finalizing the guidelines and they will be given to staff next week.
“I mean identity is important and it’s one of those things where, you know, the child I have in my life, you know, goes by multiple nicknames, including her regular name,” said Kiejah Mastin, a DMPS parent. “But, you know, it’s really up to her as to what she wants to be called.”
“I would say keep their name, not a nickname,” said Angellita Jones, a grandparent of a DMPS student. “That isn’t going to do you good if a stranger comes to pick up your child because there are numerous people named the same name.”
And there are posts from parents on social media, saying that they have been called about their student’s nickname. A post on X, formerly known as Twitter, by a parent in the West Des Moines Community School District, said she was called to confirm the name Carly for Caroline.
All of these changes, along with book removal lists, are because of a new state law that just passed through the statehouse last session. Senate File 496 restricts school districts from educating students K-6th grade on gender identity and sexual orientation. It states that school districts won’t have books on shelves that contain “sex acts” as defined by Iowa code. The same bill also says a parent must be notified if a student is using pronouns that are different than their sex on their birth certificate.
The last portion of the bill is the cause for these nickname policies. School districts have a lack of guidance from the State Department of Education and are interpreting the law strictly.
“The law is very general and when interpreting the law, it addresses any change in a child’s name that they wish to be called. And so if that was the intent of the legislature, which is very specific and very narrow, they needed to have written that in,” said Mike Beranek, the president of the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA).
School districts have been following guidance from their own legal counsel and counsel from the ISEA and the Iowa Association of School Boards (IASB). The IASB has recommended that schools apply this nickname policy in order to comply with the new law.
However, one of the state republican lawmakers who was critical in passing the legislation, said this is not how the law should be interpreted or applied.
“This portion of the bill is intended to make sure that schools can’t hide a child’s gender transition from their parents. The requirement of approval over a student’s name change only applies when it is ‘intended to affirm the student’s gender identity.’ Nicknames aren’t and never were a part of this bill.”
“Schools should never be keeping secrets from parents about their children. Unfortunately, some Iowa school districts had policies that intentionally kept parents in the dark about their own child’s life. Thanks to Iowa House Republicans, that will no longer be the case.“Iowa State Representative Skyler Wheeler, (R), District 4 from Orange City
Representative Wheeler was the chair of the Iowa House Education committee just last session when the bill was passed.